by Martin Maenza and Immortalwildcat
June 15th, 1987:
Neil Richards balanced on one foot as he dumped the sand out of his loafers. The Lahaina area of Maui was known for some of the most beautiful and private beaches in the South Pacific. It was a perfect place for a photo shoot of his new Mad Mod swimwear line. Still, when he was working, Richards was all about dressing up in style. Today he wore a cool aqua dress shirt with beige slacks and a colorful silk tie. But his Italian leather shoes were hardly beach attire.
“I’ll be needin’ a bloody vacuum to get these clean again,” the designer grumbled to himself.
About twenty yards away, a bit closer to the incoming surf, a brown-haired photographer stood behind his tripod with his eye focused on the viewer of a camera. His hands worked quickly, zooming the lens in and out, adjusting the light exposure, and snapping off photos. “Nice. Very nice,” he said in encouraging tones. “A little to the left. One more step. Perfect. Now turn to the water slightly. Good. Like that. Maybe kick at the surf playfully. Nice. Very nice. Good smile. Loving it. You’re doing marvelous, Cindy.”
A young woman, about sixteen or so in appearance with short blonde hair, moved about as per the instructions of the photographer. Cindy Simpson, a rising teen model sensation and one of the primary models for the Mad Mod line, wore a mauve two-piece bikini.
She’d been modeling for a little over a year now, in part to establish herself with a life here on Earth. As one of the seven Green Lanterns who currently made their home on the planet, Arisia wanted to be out and about in the world. She had grown tired of hanging out at the Green Lantern Citadel in California and had felt hurt when her affections for Hal Jordan had not been returned. It was the suggestion of Hal’s friend Superman that had led her to talk with Donna Troy and eventually move into the world of modeling. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Comics Presents: Superman and Arisia: To Honor and Obey and Kill.]
Of course, hooking up with Neil Richards — a former enemy of the Teen Titans now turned respectable clothing designer — helped a lot, too. Neil had been looking for a fresh young face for his new line of Mad Mod fashions, and Arisia, in her guise as Cindy Simpson, fit the bill perfectly. It was a match made in heaven.
“Cindy, that’s a wrap for this,” said the photographer, starting to get some new film for his camera.
The teenager made her way across the beach to her bag with her towel. Cindy dried off her legs. “How was that, Neil?” she asked.
“Just ducky, love,” the red-haired, freckle-faced man replied. “I’ll ‘ave ‘im shoot some backdrop shots while you change into your next suit.”
“Sounds good,” she said, then picked up her bag and headed for the changing tent that they had erected farther up the beach. It would allow her the privacy to change into the other swimsuit. As she approached the tent, she felt a slight vibration from her right hand. “Oh.” She quickly hurried into the tent and closed the flap.
Her Green Lantern power ring, which she kept invisible, had given her a little warning signal. It was about that time again for her to charge her ring once more, something that all the Green Lanterns were required to do every twenty-four hours. So she wouldn’t forget, she had her ring remind her with a vibration when the charge was about to expire.
Reaching into her bag, she pulled forth a green power battery that was also kept invisible. Better take care of this now, Cindy thought to herself. After all, it’s the ring’s power that keeps up the illusion that I’m a blonde-haired American girl.
She held the emerald lantern in the air with her left hand and moved her ring hand over to touch the battery’s face. “From lantern comes the gift we give,” she quietly said, “to shed light’s grace on all that live.” Being in a hurry, she had spoken her original oath instead of the longer one used by many of Earth’s Green Lanterns.
Cindy put the battery back in her bag and reached for the other swimsuit to change.
On the beach, Neil Richards glanced at his watch as the photographer was starting to look impatient. The day’s sun was shifting; they would need to finish before too long. “What’s keepin’ ‘er?” he wondered aloud. He traipsed up the beach to the changing tent. “Cindy, love, what’s the hold-up?”
The flap parted slightly, and Neil felt a hand firmly grasp his arm. He was pulled into the tent rather roughly. “What’s goin’ on ‘ere?!” he exclaimed. Then, when he brushed himself off, he realized there was a problem. “Cindy, what’s all this about?”
Standing before him was Arisia in her natural form of the golden-skinned and pointy-eared alien from Graxos IV.
“I’m not sure myself, Neil,” the girl said, a slight panic in her voice. “I was all set to come out after changing when I realized my illusion was gone.”
“So whip up another one.”
“I tried! Many times! And every time, nothing. I even tried recharging my ring with my battery, but that didn’t help, either. I don’t know why it’s not working!”
Neil frowned slightly. “Well, this is certainly a sticky wicket. We can’t ‘ave you runnin’ around like that. Folks’ll put two and two together.”
“I know. What do we do?”
Neil headed for the flap of the tent. “Stay ‘ere. I’ll go tell Charles we’re done for today. Then we’ll get you back to the hotel room to see if we can’t figure this out, right?”
Later, with the aid of a white hooded bathrobe and using the back entrance and service elevators of the hotel, Neil Richards managed to get the teenager back up to their suite without any incident.
Arisia flipped down the robe’s hood and plopped down on the bed. “Well, that was awkward.” She frowned slightly as she glanced at the green ring on her hand. It felt weird not getting any reading from it whatsoever. It was like a bond had been broken; she felt a feeling of loneliness. Instinctively, she reached for Mr. Cuddles on the nightstand. She wished her boyfriend Hal were here to comfort her. She squeezed the bear tightly against her chest, but it wasn’t the same. This made her even more sad.
Neil saw her expression. “Chin up, love,” he said, trying to be encouraging. “Why not give your friends back at the Citadel a quick buzz? Maybe they might ‘ave an idea or two.”
“You’re right,” the girl said. She rolled over and reached for the phone on the night stand. She dialed nine first for the outside extension, and then the ten-digit number that would connect her to her friends in Encino Canyon in California.
It rang a few times until a squeaky, high-pitched voice answered the line. “Green Lantern Citadel. How can we help you?”
She knew who it was in an instant, though it had been a long while since she had heard it. “Ch’p?! Hey, it’s me. Arisia!” Hearing the voice of the furry Green Lantern from H’lven always put her in a better mood, and she paused as Ch’p told her a brief version of where he had been over the last year and a half. Then she said, “Say, I’ve got a problem. Who’s around? Kilowog? John? Hal?”
“Nope,” the chipmunk-like alien said. “Just me and old pickle-puss.”
Salaak, Arisia thought. She wasn’t sure how much help the Slyggian Green Lantern would be.
There was a weird blurting sound on the other end of the phone. “Oh, and Driq, too,” Ch’p added. “He’s certainly a bit to get used to.”
“He is,” Arisia agreed, having met the Criqian Green Lantern once or twice. His power ring had kept him alive after a deadly battle with Star Sapphire. He reminded the girl of the zombies in Marlon Monroe’s Thriller video.
There was more blurting in the background on the other end of the phone, but this sounded more urgent or something. This was then followed by some muffled yelling, which Arisia could make out as Salaak’s voice. “Hold on a second, Arisia,” Ch’p said.
“Is there something wrong?” she asked. “What’s going on?”
“You’ll have to call back!” Ch’p said with some urgency in his voice.
“Why?” Arisia asked.
“It’s Driq!” Ch’p said. “Something’s going on with him! I gotta go!” And the phone went dead. Arisia stared at the phone in disbelief.
“Something wrong?” Neil asked.
She hung up the phone. “Can we get back to California?” she asked. “I think something’s wrong.”
Neil paused. “We’ve done the shoot,” he said. “And given your current situation, you probably aren’t in the mood for sightseein’. I guess we can ‘ead out in the morning.”
“Thanks,” Arisia nodded. Morning wouldn’t come soon enough for her.
“You’ll have to call back!” Ch’p said with some urgency in his voice.
“Why?” Arisia asked.
“It’s Driq!” Ch’p said. “Something’s going on with him! I gotta go!” And the small, chipmunk-like alien dressed in green pants with suspenders, white gloves, and a white bow tie hung up the phone quickly. He whirled around in the air to where the commotion was coming from.
There stood a four-armed alien with an oblong-shaped purple head covered with bumps, who wore a green military-style tunic. He was on his knees trying to scoop up a runny, blackish substance in his hands. “Don’t just float there slack-jawed, you befuddled fur-ball!” Salaak snapped. “Help me!”
“Er…” Ch’p said. “Uh… help you do what, exactly?” It looked like Salaak had dropped something rather large and messy onto the floor.
“Help me with Driq!” Salaak said. “Now!”
“Driq?” Ch’p let that sink in.
The mess sprawling all over the floor was the remains of the Green Lantern Driq of Criq.
“Oh,” the smaller Lantern said. “Perhaps our rings can help.” Willing the green device on his hand, Ch’p summoned up some of the energy contained therein. It washed over the floor area, slipping between the remains of the alien and the tile. Acting like a sponge, the energy soaked up every bit of the fallen figure. It then formed into an emerald jar to hold the fluids and chunks of flesh of carcass that remained.
Ch’p felt a slight bit of nausea as the contents swished back and forth in the energy jar. “There,” he said.
Salaak, who seemed to have been gripped with some panic, was now recovering. “Thank you, fur-ball,” he said as he rose to his feet. His own ring sprang to life, his energy wrapping around the construct that Ch’p created. “I’ll take him.” He furrowed his brow. “Ring, analyze.”
“What happened?” Ch’p asked. “One minute he’s there blurting away, and the next this.”
“Quiet!” Salaak snapped. “We’ll know in a moment. Ring, any time now!” An emerald screen appeared in the air with some alien writing on it. Ch’p wasn’t readily familiar with the Slyggian alphabet. Salaak bowed his head somberly.
“What?” Ch’p asked excitedly.
“He’s gone,” Salaak said softly. “There are no longer any traces of life in his remains. Driq is dead.” A tear rolled down the alien’s left cheeks. One of his left arms rushed up to brush it away.
Ch’p just stood and stared at the remains in the jar. “Why? Why now?” he wondered aloud. Then his eyes grew wide as if a light bulb went off in his head. “Arisia had called!”
“So?” Salaak said with some depression in his voice. “Why would that concern me at a time like this? We’ve just lost an ally and friend!”
“She said her ring won’t charge; she tried it a number of times! Maybe that and Driq’s collapse could be related!“
Salaak put one hand to his chin and pondered.
“Perhaps we should contact Hal Jordan,” Ch’p suggested. “Of all you biggies, he’s one of the best.”
“Are you saying I can’t figure this out, fur-ball?” Salaak snapped.
“No, not at all, Salaak,” the short Green Lantern replied. “I just thought that Hal might–“
“Hal left this morning,” Salaak said. “Took off with another human woman with white streaks in her hair. He said something about following a lead on a missing friend. The two drove off in a vehicle; he was dressed in regular human clothing. So that leaves this little mystery to you and I.”
Ch’p just nodded, wanting not to anger Salaak further. Still, he hoped they’d hear from John or Katma or Kilowog soon.
In a rustic-looking military complex, one pristine building stood apart from the massed tents, temporary shelters, and stone-walled barracks and office buildings. The few entrances were all heavily guarded through all hours of the day and night. Inside, teams of laborers worked under the direction of one man, subject to his every whim as they prepared for upcoming war.
“Ahmet, he is mad, I tell you. These containers are not safe for a toxin of this strength. I saw how it ate through the metal catch basin in Section Two.”
“All the more reason to be careful,” replied his companion as they guided a cart loaded with metal barrels into a storage area at one end of the building. “What can we do, Oktay? His Excellency says we are to obey this man to the greater glory. This very toxin shall elevate us to our rightful place in the world.”
“Perhaps the Americans know this man better than His Excellency, may Allah shine his face upon him. They tried to take him back once. Perhaps it would have been best if they had.”
“Do not even think such heresy, my friend. If you should be heard…”
“You could lose your job!” finished a new voice. Unlike the others in the facility, this voice spoke loudly. Oktay and Ahmet turned to see the very man they feared standing not ten feet away. “Your job, or something you value even more! Ha-ha-ha-ha!“
The tall, thin figure dressed in purple reached a hand into one pocket of his jacket. Immediately, the flower pinned to his lapel squirted a stream of liquid toward Oktay. It missed him, striking a barrel next to him. “Oopsie, I missed!” giggled the pale-skinned leader of the chemical operation.
“Aaaie-ie-ie-ie!” shrieked Oktay as the acid ate a hole in the barrel. A viscous green fluid squirted from the opening, striking him just below the waist. Fumes from the liquid reached his mouth and nose, and his screaming became erratic, mixed with uncontrollable laughter. As a terrified Ahmet watched, his friend’s lab coat, trousers, and even the skin and muscle of his lower body dissolved away, revealing bones that quickly disappeared in a wash of blood and intestinal fluids. Oktay collapsed to the floor, screaming for a moment more before he died.
“Well, sometimes a miss is as good as a hit, isn’t it?” said the Joker as he looked up at Ahmet. “I’m sorry about your friend, but he really should have learned to keep his mouth shut. Right?“
Ahmet nodded vigorously as he slowly backed away. “Yes, sir. I tried to warn him, but–“
“I know, I know, and I really appreciate it. I bet you’ll be happy to let the others know what happened, so they will keep working, right?”
“Yes, sir!” answered Ahmet.
“Good, then. Now, get somebody to clean up this mess!” Without another word, the Joker turned and stalked off to an office at the other end of the building.
Moments later, he was on the phone. “Hussein, old buddy, the Venom project is coming along nicely. Between your chemical warfare research and my own little penchant for mixing my own poisons, I think we’ve come up with a nice little present for your enemies.”
“Excellent, most excellent. Our military people are modifying the SCUD missiles to carry your payloads. In less than sixty days, we shall be ready to attack the Zionist state and the U.S. military bases that our so-called allies have allowed to exist like a stain in the desert. They shall die a most gruesome death, as indeed they should.”
“Ah, I like the way you think, Hussein. I’ll make sure you have enough Venom for all of the missiles.” The phone call ended with laughter echoing in the office.
“Are you sure this is the place?”
“Not one hundred percent, but if my information is correct, this should be it.”
“Then let’s see what the ring can find.” Hal Jordan raised one hand, and a wide beam of green light swept out and around the clearing in the pine woods northeast of Encino, California. Even to the eyes of his companion, Kari Limbo, the beam sparked and flared as it swept over certain parts of the clearing, rather like the blips on a weather radar screen.
“Looks like your information was on the money, Kari. Carol was here as Star Sapphire.”
“Poor Jim Walker. Everybody thought he was drunk when he told people he’d seen flashing purple lights out here last October. They never suspected he was telling the truth.”
“She wasn’t alone. Damn! That other Star Sapphire, the one that I’ve heard some reports about operating here in California lately, was here as well. Looks like they had a real knockdown, drag-out fight, too.” Fuzzy, indistinct images moved in the greenish light, darting around each other. The light flared brightly, then continued, growing less distinct until only a single image was visible. “Looks like that other Sapphire defeated Carol and stole her power stone. The ring’s image isn’t the best, but it looks like Carol was left unconscious in a green dress. There was someone kneeling by her head, then it goes blank.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Secret Society of Super-Villains: Reclamation, Book 3.]
“The psychic impressions here are strong, too, Hal. More than just the two of them. There were others watching, and — aaauuugghhh!” Kari Limbo fell to her hands and knees, her long, white-streaked hair falling around her head. “Memories! Thoughts! Someone else’s, trying to get in! Can’t fight, must fight, can’t let her take over!” It was only her many years of experience with psychic phenomenon that allowed Kari to master the flood of impressions that washed over her mind. As she forced them into their own separate part of her mind, Kari realized who they belonged to. “Hal! It’s Carol! Somehow, somebody expunged all of her memories, her identity, her personality.”
“Good God! Is she alive? Can you tell? Can you restore her memories if we find her?” Hal helped the small woman to her feet.
“I-I think I can restore them. And what you said reminds me of something else I heard while I was tracking Carol down. A waitress at a truck stop not far from here mentioned seeing a tall, black-haired woman, who was dressed much too fancy for traveling in a truck. I think she said she knew the driver, too, that he was a regular of hers.”
Hal started off for their car, checking to see that Kari was following. “Let’s go! Where was this truck stop?”